Melanie is a student studying remotely from Toronto with Thinkful's part-time Flexible Web Development Bootcamp, and she shared with us what it’s like to learn to code online. We talked to Melanie about why she chose to do an online bootcamp rather than an in-person course, the difference between Code School and Thinkful, and Melanie even shared her screen with us to give us a sneak peak into the Thinkful learning experience.
What is your pre-Thinkful story, and your background before you decided you want to learn to code?
The part-time Flexible Web Development Bootcamp is more intensive than Thinkful’s skills courses – did you have to quit your job?
I started Thinkful in mid-November, and I have been learning part time in addition to working at my full-time job.
What resources were you using to teach yourself to code before you started Thinkful?
I started doing lessons on Code School mainly, but I found that those small, one-off courses didn't really give me a good overview or good delta towards a career in web development. I choose Thinkful because they gave me a clear path towards a career.
How did you make the decision between in-person and online bootcamps?
I created a spreadsheet of different bootcamps. I considered brick and mortar bootcamps and the UdacityNanodegree in Frontend Web Development. I had to make a choice between quitting my job to start a physical bootcamp where I meet with people every day, versus a completely online bootcamp where I'm not meeting with someone and it's really self-directed. I found Thinkful to be a happy medium between those two options. I get one-on-one time with a mentor from the industry, as well as a clear path towards a career, and there is less risk involved because I don't have to quit my job to learn.
What was the application process like when you were applying for the part-time Thinkful Flexible Web Development Bootcamp?
I met with a Thinkful advisor, Liz Parsekian, to hear more about Thinkful and ask questions about how the program works. I got a really good feeling from that conversation, and so Liz set up a meeting for me with Derek Fogge, the Flexible Web Development Bootcamp program manager. Derek asked about my experience and goals and based on that he recommended the part-time Flexible Web Development Bootcamp.
Can you tell me a bit about the overall learning experience? What’s a typical day for you when you're working on Thinkful?
A typical day will begin in the evening. After work I'll typically come home and log in to my dashboard and continue on from the project I was working on. Either reading materials that are next on my career path, or working on a project or a portfolio project. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening I also meet with my mentor to discuss any problems or issues I have.
Are you matched with one mentor who you communicate with regularly?
That's right. My mentor, Jack Melnick, and I meet every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for an hour. It's really motivating to make it through the course work if you know that you have a mentor meeting coming up.
How many hours per week have you committed to Thinkful so far?
I've actually been tracking that in a spreadsheet so I can tell you with some reliability that I work on Thinkful between 20 and 30 hours per week.
Do you know how long it's going to take you to finish the part-time Flexible Web Development Bootcamp course?
I started in November, and I'm hoping to graduate mid-June. So that will be six and a half months in total.
Okay, Melanie – let’s screen share! Could you start by showing us the main dashboard for the Thinkful platform and what you see when you first log in.
This is the dashboard that I see when I first log into my account. At the top of the page are my goals. These are the major milestones along my career path and we're halfway through it, I’m on goal 15 out of 24. The last goal I completed was a mock interview on May 2nd. Beneath that is my specific progress towards a goal. I'm currently on a goal called “Learn One Front End Framework” and I’ve completed 9% of that goal. I can access the course material for that goal by clicking on the 'continue course' button, which will bring me to the contents for that particular goal, where I'm at in the course content.
How do you know how you’re progressing through the course?
On the side of the screen is my “Streak” which tracks my learning streak. This is a new feature, so right now my learning streak is only one day, which means that in the past one day I only made one commit and I have completed zero assignments. The idea is to help motivate me to increase my streak of days for committed or completed assignments. Beneath that is My Team which shows me my mentor, Jack, and gives me the link to the video chat room that I would go to meet with him, and also links to Derek or the program manager. Beneath that is the list of curricula that are currently available for me to follow. Right now, I’m actually going through the Frontend in AngularJS curricula.
Have you worked on any of the other tracks there or are you just doing that one?
I've completed the Front End Web Development and Web Development Career Path curricula so far.
Can you take us back through to one of the lessons that you're working on?
Sure. I’m at the sixth part of lesson two and unit one of Introducing Angular. For the particular project I'm working on now, I’ve been given instructions for creating this Angular app of Mad Libs. These are resources that I'll need to complete it, some gentle guidance, and at the very end is a space where I'll submit the link to my completed project. Once I paste a link to my project and click “submit,” that task is checked off which is reflected in my progress bar on the homepage.
That's so nice and clear so that you really feel like you're making progress.
Yes, yes. It makes learning into a bit of a game too.
How much do you use to GitHub as part of this Thinkful program?
All the time. Since the first or second lesson in the course where we're introduced to GitHub, we're using it for every single project. All of my projects are in my GitHub account.
Where are you able to communicate with mentors and other students?
I communicate with my mentor, three days a week for an hour and for that I would go to our video chat room. If we’re not meeting for a mentor session, then we communicate through Slack. Here's the Thinkful Slack channel and there are several channels that you can join. Right now I'm showing the Flexible Web Development Bootcamp channel. I would post questions here that other students or other mentors can answer. Otherwise I can chat with my mentors through private chat messages.
Do you interact with other students? Are you also answering questions?
Yes. Sometimes I do know the answers and I will try to contribute.
I don’t regularly interact with other students, but recently I have been chatting with a few other students and made some offline connections with a couple of them.
Are you able to show us the video app that you use to communicate?
Yes, I'll go to the room now. This is a video conference room that I would join with my mentor. There are things you can do in here so if during a mentor session my mentor wants to send me some code, then he will copy it to the chat window. There are also buttons you can use to mute, background noise, turn off your video, share your screen, or open the chat.
It's similar to Google Hangouts but it's awesome that it's integrated with your actual platform.
Yes, it's built right in so you don't need to worry about setting up an account with Google or going through their interface. Quite streamlined.
How do you give feedback to the Thinkful team?
If I wanted to give feedback about course content, I would simply mention it in the Slack channel. We also fill out NPS surveys at weeks 3, 7, and 11 to answer specific questions about how the course is going.
How is the job hunt integrated into the learning experience?
I haven't graduated yet so I can't speak from experience, but I know that Thinkful arranges mock interviews with students every month. Mock interviews give you practice and experience with the questions that you will be faced with when you actually start interviewing for web development positions in the real world. Following that, my understanding is that I'll be paired with a career coach who will help me work through my CV and on the job hunt to find suitable positions.
What do you like best about learning to code through the Thinkful online platform?
What I like best about Thinkful in general is the mentorship aspect. I find it really valuable that I've not only gained real insights into the industry, but after meeting with someone for hours, three times a week, they also become your friend. For that reason I think graduating from Thinkful is going to be bittersweet. The community and mentorship aspects are really the best features.
You used Code School before, an online learn-to-code resource. How is the Thinkful experience different from using a free online resource?
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about taking an online coding bootcamp in order to become a developer?
My advice would be to know what you want out of the experience. If you're looking for a change in career, Thinkful is a great option. If you're generally interested in learning different skills, Thinkful does offer other courses, aside from the Flexible Web Development Bootcamp, which might be useful too. If you're just looking to pick up skills, then Code School or Codecademy are good places to start. But if you're looking to level up quickly, Thinkful is a great option.